Kashmir Diary: CM Omar Abdullah survives political onslaught

November 5, 2011 16:52
omar abdullah jammu kashmir cm

Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah (L) looks on as a man is led away by a military personnel after Congress party legislators shouted anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) slogans inside State Legislative Assembly during a nine-day session in Srinagar. A slugfest between ruling Congress and opposition Bharatiya Janata Party over a resolution seeking clemency for Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and other issues led to adjournment of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly for the day. Photo - Rouf Bhat/AFP/Getty Images

National Conference worker’s death; Omar survives People’s Democratic Party crusade

Till 29 September, Indian Kashmir’s chief minister Omar Abdullah would have been thanking God for every peaceful moment of summer 2011 in Kashmir. Little did he know that the wheel of his fate would catapult just a day after the death of his party’s senior fellow and that, too, inside his own residence…

Sayeed Muhammad Yousuf, a staunch worker from south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town of the ruling National Conference, is said to be a favourite of NC president Farooq Abdullah. On the fateful day of 30 September, Yousuf was summoned to chief minister’s residence along with two other party workers, Abdul Salam Reshi and Muhammad Yousuf Bhat. Both Reshi and Bhat levelled serious charges of graft against Sayeed Yousuf. The duo (Bhat and Reshi) alleged that Sayeed had taken bribe from them with a promise to help them both become a member of the legislative council and minister respectively.

According to chief minister, Sayeed was accused of taking bribe from Bhat and Reshi to the tune of Rs 1 crore (10 million). Sayeed was handed over to crime branch for investigations; however, he allegedly died in the custody on the morning of 30 September.  Government issued a statement saying Sayeed died of a “cardiac arrest” and not due to the torture as alleged by the JK’s main opposition Peoples Democratic Party.

The Assembly session was on and the issue became a ‘rubber ball’ for the PDP which hit it hard from all sides to build pressure on the chief minister. PDP Chief Mehbooba Mufti even went to the extent of accusing Abdullah’s of being involved in the bribery. The PDP legislators did not allow the proceedings in the House and demanded a debate over the killing of Sayeed. PDP received a support from the unexpected quarters, BJP and National Panthers Party as both the parties demanded CBI probe into the killing of NC worker. Feeling the heat, Chief Minister announced a judicial probe by a sitting judge with a message that he won’t even hesitate presenting himself before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI).

Given the fact that Assembly session was short, PDP took the battle to the streets. Almost every party’s MLAs and a few dozen workers led by party chief marched from party headquarters in Municipal Park to Residency Road amid slogans—“katiloon ko pesh karo (punish the killers). Opposition activists demanded the chief minister’s resignation and said that the commission was a “mere eye wash”. “Our point is clear. Sayeed has been murdered. He has been beaten to death. Government is trying to cover up as the issue is very serious in nature. He was beaten by chief minister’s personal security officers,” alleged Mehbooba during the march.

She said unless Omar would step down, probe won’t bear any fruit. “Where is the judicial inquiry?,”  asked the PDP chief. “The announcement was made to douse the flames and to pacify the anger. It was a ploy to silence the opposition. But we won’t bow down and continue demand thorough investigations into the issue.”

In the meantime, chief minister surfaced on national television channel ruling out his resignation. “Why should I resign? I am damned if I resign and damned if I don’t. I have decided not to resign because I have done nothing wrong. All allegations levelled against me are baseless,” he told the channel. On whether he was aware of the corruption charges against Sayeed as alleged by another worker, Salam Reshi, Omar admitted he had prior knowledge but claimed the “issue slipped his mind” as he focused on Amarnath Yatra.

Omar’s stance was that of a brave man. He was not alone when it came to defence. His father, Farooq Abdullah and uncle, Sheikh Mustafa Kamal threw their weight behind Omar. “PDP is power hungry. They would stoop so low to gain power,” said Farooq after chairing a meeting at the party headquarters, Nawa-e-Subh. Joining the chorus, Kamal said had Omar at the fault, he would not have ordered the judicial probe. “Opposition is suffering from utter frustration. They want to grab the power by hook or crook. We won’t succumb to their politics of deceit. We will fight them,” said Kamal, who was elevated as NC Additional General Secretary and chief spokesman of the party in one go by his elder brother, senior Abdullah.

PDP, however, continued to up their ante. The party started picking up holes in the announcement of judicial probe. “Where is the probe?,” questioned Mehbooba. She was countered by Kamal. “Government has short a letter to the Chief Justice of High Court seeking appointment of a sitting judge for conducting the probe. The process has legal formalities. The request would go to the Law minister and then to the President,” Kamal said. “Sparing a judge is not a joke. PDP has nothing but to target NC. They just need an excuse.”

Amid all this chaos, Bharatiya Janta Party and National Panther’s Party termed the seven-day Assembly session as a “fixed match” between NC and PDP. They, however, demanded CBI enquiry into the killing of Sayeed. Omar braved all odds, especially PDP’s allegations and street protests. PDP despite trying its level best to defame Omar and to build pressure on him to step down failed in their mission, at least for now. NC stood like a rock behind Omar so did New Delhi.

For a moment, gossip lounges could be seen busy with the murmurs that PDP attack may topple Omar’s government given the fact that NC and Congress were blamed of sabotaging the clemency resolution in favour of parliament attack convict, Muhammad Afzal Guru. NC remained silent in the House while Congress created ruckus over the suspension of seven BJP MLAs on 28 September. The day passed off amid chaos and adjournment but left a bad image of Congress and NC in the minds of common man. “The match was fixed between NC, PDP and Congress. They all are New Delhi’s agents,” alleged an independent Legislator from Langate, Engineer Abdur Rashid, who had submitted the resolution.

With Judicial probe yet to take off given lot of procedures, the issue made out of the death of Sayeed seems to have lost its steam as PDP too seems to be falling short of ideas that would create tension for the NC. Omar recently met Union Law Minister, Salman Khursheed in New Delhi and urged him to speed up the process of appointing a sitting judge for probing the incident. Back home, the chief minister is back on track with his entire team and the opposition is busy thinking anti-NC ideas. For now, Omar braved all attacks. After all, politics is a battle of ideas, wits and ideologies.

Meanwhile, Omar got a major relief as Special Anti-Corruption court has rejected the pleas seeking CBI probe into the NC worker’s death. However, the court has maintained that the High Court and the Supreme Court have the jurisdiction and power to order CBI probe and order registration of fresh cases. While rejecting the application of Talib Hussian, son of deceased NC worker, Mohammad Yousuf Akhoon, special anti-corruption judge in Srinagar, said: “It is only the constitutional courts like Apex and High courts which are having extraordinary powers and jurisdiction under Article 32 and 226 of the constitution of India, to order CBI probe into a cognizable offence in suitable cases.”

Aliya Bashir is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. She regularly covers womens issues and human rights violations in the disputed territory. 

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